Here are a bunch of ways to build a personal network with less time

Involved people face pretty common time constraints: you want to be present in more places than your calendar allows.

This is true of beat reporters and community organizers and advocates and activists alike. Recently I was talking about just that topic with a friend, and we found ourselves exchanging a few tricks we each had for accomplishing our goals: expanding a network while maintaining relationships with others.

Another way to see the problem is how to manage the same fixed amount of available time with an ever increasing amount of requests for that time.

The real purpose here is I strive to never turn down someone with pure intentions. I do regularly delegate and reassign relationships to others in my organization, network or friend-group when I think I see a better opportunity but I try very hard to avoid turning someone down outright, even if they send me the often dreaded “let me pick your brain” email.

Effective people are efficient in lots of ways. Building your network has to be one of ’em.

Here are a few ways I have approached this during the last couple years:

  • Delegate: Whether it be a coworker or a friend or an acquaintance, if you get good at connecting people, you can reserve only the most fitting meetings for yourself without saying no too often.
  • Find your best flex time: Do you like a lunch break? Have you not yet started regular morning meetings? Is there a post-dinner time you like to meet during? This year, as an effort to also become more punctual, I scheduled pretty regular 7 or 8am morning meetings with people who live in my neighborhood. It’s added capacity.
  • Take intro calls on your commute: If you have flexible time while getting to work — driving, walking or bicycling — use this time. For me, I limit how often I do that (as I also appreciate the private, quiet time) but when I’m feeling particularly strapped, I will often take calls on my bicycle ride to work and usually do intro calls, as that helps me keep them short, focused and not invading other core work I need to do.
  • Schedule meetings at public events you’re attending: One of my favorite, long-held tricks for people I want to meet each other anyway or for people I’m meeting for the first time is to invite them to a public event I’m attending. Sometimes they are events I’m co-hosting for work, sometimes they are other events I’m attending. Whatever the case, I often attend an event and catch up with two or three people with intentions (not just bumping into people) and I’ve scheduled as many as five or six at one event. Clearly this is best for quick intro meetings but it’s been a major way I’ve continued my effort to never turn a well-intentioned person down.
  • Do group meetings: I’ve often gotten several people together I wanted to catch up with around a common issue in one place. I’ve done small breakfasts or happy hours (five or six people) and gotten lots of work done while also making sure other people meet each other. It’s productive in lots of ways.
  • Build circles of friends that intersect with professional work: Here’s one that only works if you want it. I actually do like having close personal relationships with people I also have professional ties too, though you do have to be careful here. When it works, I often do social things — parties, dinners, etc. — with a group of friends and can also catch up around work issues.
  • Ask more of those who ask of you: In the vein, of ‘bring solutions, not just problems’ I also have gotten more challenging of those who ask of my time. I push on getting a specific ask, so I know if I should recommend they meet someone else. I want them to offer how we can help each other and if they are bringing a suggestion, I see if I can find something they can too, like the old piece of advice for leading an organization or board of directors: “Thanks for the suggestion, you can form the committee now.” That gets the right outcome.
  • Bundle meetings and out of the office time: I try my best to pack together as many external meetings as I can so I can leave the most protected time for actually producing work — proposals, strategic thinking or other execution. (It’s a favorite among productivity advisers).
  • Be protective of your time: I want to build relationships over time, so I am getting better at keeping meetings limited in their time. If I’m meeting someone in a group setting, I feel comfortable getting an introductory conversation and moving on. If we do have a coffee, I’ll watch the time. We’re all busy and so I want to be judicious with my time.
  • Get great at the drop-in: get to an event. If you want to make a touchpoint with an event organizer or an attendee or an organization, go to their event, find a person you’re building a relationship with there and have a presence — maybe get that social media message and move on. Sometimes going to the event is more important than being at the event, if you follow.
  • Push back with the right intentions. If I’m less sure of someone’s intentions and/or if I’m really the right person I do think it’s appropriate to ask they get back to me in a few weeks. People have done this to me and I’m more than fine with it. Often, this is simply a created obstacle to make sure someone really knows what they want. If they follow back up as requested, I’ll make more time.

If you don’t control your time, someone else will.